Aubrey Shepherd's focal point for display of Labrador retrievers, natural-resource conservation, English language word use, outdoor sports, recreational sports and athletics

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First printed in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Aubrey's Notebook:
Even people who dislike deer season need to understand its importance
Having grown up when deer were scarce makes it easy to appreciate them

OK, so deer season for hunters using modern firearms opens this week and not everyone is thrilled. People who have hit or nearly hit deer on area highways may be happy to know that the overpopulated deer herd will be thinned a bit over the next few days.

Deer hunting sells licenses and equipment and wildlife managers and sporting-goods manufacturers have to be happy. Lovers of Bambi, however, who don't realize that ‹ without restocking mountain lions and wolves along with deer, our wildlife managers have created a situation where only automobiles, the starvation sure to follow the previous summer's drought and hunters are likely to control the deer population ‹ may be distressed by the situation.

I'm neutral. I wish the predators were still out there hunting the deer and that the human population were still at frontier levels so that people would be hunting strictly for subsistence.

Why am I excited about duck season coming later this month but not about deer season? The main reason is that I grew up before deer were restocked. I first saw a wild deer in Louisiana when I was in high school. I had become an enthusiastic hunter of ducks, quail and squirrels by that time. Deer were exotic beasts to be admired.

The same was true of wild turkeys. They were restocked during the time I was growing up and have taken longer to become well-established. Cousins my age don't hunt deer. Cousins 10 years younger grew up hunting deer. I missed that addiction by a decade.

Another frustrating thing is that part of the maximization of the deer population has involved the destruction of habitat for birds, squirrels and other species. Wildlife-management areas all over the state routinely suffer the removal of fine stands of ancient hardwood timber to make room for "food plots," a polite term for places to get deer to congregate and supplement their natural food with prairie grass and such ‹ and sometimes to be ambushed by a hunter who doesn't mind hunting in an ugly, logged-over area as long as he gets a shot at a buck. Anyway, my mind has been on duck dogs.

How can I relate that to deer hunting? An anecdote from last January may help. Having come out of one of Southeast Arkansas' fine stands of hardwood timber on Wayne Hampton's property near Lodge's Corner, flooded temporarily during winter for duck habitat, I was about to put Bounty Grant's Aubunique Egg into his crate in the back of my truck when I realized the two dogs in a crate beside his, Aubunique Sadie Hawkins and Pal Joey, hadn't been out since noon and needed some exercise. So I let them out.

Not only did the two young Labrador retrievers run straight across the road and begin chasing a large herd of deer that had been feeding peacefully about a half-mile away on the other side of a field of winter wheat but also Egg, 8 years old and wet and cold from a retrieving mallards from the icy swamp, joined the chase.

The three dogs Œhunted' the deer for a couple of hours, finally returning to the dirt farm road wet but happy long after I had come to believe I would have to wade through the swamp all night to find them and might not survive to enjoy dinner or even the next day's breakfast. No, they didn't bark; so Labs are not a good substitute for hounds as deer dogs. However, they would be excellent for tracking wounded deer, anywhere the law allows the use of dogs that way.

For the past seven weeks, my life has been dominated by eight beautiful puppies born of a union of Egg and Sadie. The parents agree it is time for their offspring to be adopted.

Egg, in fact, has let me know in ways only a dog and master who have spent long hours together can, that he wants Sadie to work on getting back in shape from nursing quickly and take over the late-season duck-retrieving chores, when ice is likely to cover the water and the wind-chill factor likely will dip below zero. In fact, while curled up a lot closer to the living-room stove than he would have in past years, he may be dreaming of the time when Aubunique Hot Chocolate Egg, his third-born pup and namesake, can take over some of the chores that he has had to do over the years.

"Choc" sure spends a lot of time hanging around his sire, maybe listening to old hunting stories. I can only hope he is learning how to behave as well as his dad has over the years. Anyway, I won't be competing for shots at bucks this weekend. I'll likely see the final good weekend of fall color only from my backyard in Fayetteville. But, if I manage to find responsible homes for some of their pups, Egg and Sadie are likely to forgive me for not taking them where they can chase a deer or otherwise do what Labs do when they get loose in the big woods.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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